mind-body connection

3 Survival Tactics To Conquer…THE BURN!

Here are three must-know tips so you aren’t kicking and screaming through the toughest part of your workout and dancing. Ultimately, when you apply these tips and learn to navigate the pain your body endures during your training sessions, you can get more more out of your body and get the results you are after. Score! ; )

Get Funky, Tone Your Tummy

Tone your abs with these moves to this funky song – turn your living room into a bit of a 70s disco! Brace your navel inward and move at all different tempos to target all parts of your waistline.

 

Get Tight Hips And Thighs With Latin Flair

Screw squats. You can tone your hips and thighs by moving them, engaging them, and dancing with them. Traveling through space and changing your levels will help to enhance your results. And go throw your own flair on these moves and enjoy yourself!

Choose Your Motivation Wisely, Or Else…

What motivates you?  Why do you get up and go to class and work out?  If you go to class to look good and get skinny, odds are you will 1.) be more unhappy and 2.) be less successful at achieving your desired thinness.  Damn.  And I thought the vanity angle had some potential to steer me away from dark chocolate truffles and late-night pizza.  The problem with vanity, beyond the fact that basking in your own physical appearance is a rather shallow and continuously transient perception of beauty, is that it is solely an instrumental motive.  A motive that has`everything to do with exterior, personal gain – say notoriety, financial prosperity, getting a job, and in this case, looking thin and implicitly attractive to others.  When we workout to merely look good or senselessly earn the stamp of approval from friends and family, we are doing ourselves a disservice.  It has been proven (don’t just take my word, here are two fabulous and engaging articles vouch for this claim…see below) that people with internal motive – motive that brings forth true connection with the activity at hand devoid of instrumental motive – say, to gain a closer bond with friends, to enhance your mood, to free your mind for an hour-long practice – are more motivated, happier, and more likely to achieve results.  By not focusing on external results, but focusing on the crust of the work and the glory it holds, we truly win.  Also very worth noting, to engage an an activity with both internal and instrumental motives, you also lessen your chance of obtaining your desired results and reaching happiness.  Sorry ladies.  More means of motivation doesn’t bring you more of what you want here!

Alright. So crap.  Now how do we reverse the years of just wanting to look hot in the mirror or in that new evening dress, and start to not only pretend, but truly believe we want to work out to enhance our inner souls (duh!)?  And possibly harder yet, how do we start to love working out – which brings us torture and physical challenges in the heat of the moment?

Enter the life of a dancer.

As dancers, we have to love our job; and it is our job to find freedom and lightness in the lieu of complicated and physically challenging feats.  Let’s be honest, financial prosperity as motivation is off the table.  Notoriety on the other hand, could sabotage the few who want to be known as prima ballerina, genius choreographer, or lead soloist for decades to come, but dancers – particularly the brilliant ones – are very down to earth and simply love the grittiness of the craft.

Yes, dancers are idolized for their sleek figures, but using the motivation of thinness, the pettiest of reasons for attending class, almost always results in a lousy hour and a half and short-changed results.  Every time I gripped on the need to be skinny for a gig or for a director who was demanding a particular aesthetic, I would inevitably leave rehearsal craving, and then caving, for a $9 sundae from 16 handles.  Not to mention over-thinking the need to be in better shape resulted in utter crankiness.  The only way I achieved supreme shape for an important performance, was when I focused instead on the important performance and experiences I needed to deepen to achieve it – when the fluid mastery the steps became my motivation, when my interest laid in my connection with my partner as the music oscillated through chords, or when my intention was to get lost and completely transported in the studio and on stage.  Yes, those things don’t directly correlate to shedded pounds, but my head was on a more successful trek and I wasn’t motivating myself with shallowness.  I worked harder in the studio, and precious moments were not wasted on the mental distraction of how I could look physically better and sadly, possibly gain more approval from a director.  And oddly enough, the tip-top shape would come as result of going deeper with the movement.  Any time instrumental motive was thieving my moments, I felt completely unsatisfied with the rehearsal process and subsequently the culminating performance.  Cue the moments of motivating myself with: trying to get a role, attempting to land a job at any and every audition, proving myself to someone watching, or competing internally with another dancer.  It has only been when I had complete dedication to a work and all the delicate parts of it, that I looked back and claimed I mastered it, conquered it, and performed it to my upmost.

And beautifully enough, everything can be a dance.  The next class you take can be driven by the music, the muscles that are firing, the art of perfecting your form, and the energy of your instructor and the strong women alongside you.  Or better yet, just pick one of those motivators and see if it shifts how you work or how you feel afterwards.  Yes, there are points of class that will be hard and perhaps your go-to mental motivation is the last glance you got of your less-than-perky behind.  Your ass isn’t going to save you here.  Switch your motivation to something locked into the essence of the movement.  Relish in the release of endorphins and fatigue in your muscles.  Encourage yourself with the joy of moving your body, and geez, stop incentivizing with the so-over-rated, socially-obsessed, airbrush-only-obtainable skinny!

This post is thanks to two provoking articles found in the NYTimes Sunday Review, albeit 2014; a thank you for the thoughts of Arthur C. Brooks for his “Love People, Not Pleasure” (July 20th, 2014) and Amy Wrzesniewski’s “The Secret of Effective Motivation.” (July 6th, 2014).

Get Your Mind Blown And Stretch

Here are two tips that will blow your mind about stretching and teach you about what is actually happening in your body. These tips will allow for you to finally find your fullest elongation of any muscle. Then, I’ll take you through a series of stretches for you to put these tips into physical practice!

When are you grateful?

Is it just at Thanksgiving dinner? When you earn that promotion? When you land that dance gig? What about being grateful for the crap in your life? What about being grateful for the parts of your body that you wish were leaner, thinner, or simply not there? What about being grateful for that argument you had with your director or boss? What about being grateful for when your dancing or life doesn’t quite go as planned? What about being grateful when you are struggling with a physical injury?

All of the things that come into our lives – good, bad, and even ugly – are gifts for us. Whether they appear to be gifts that are welcomed (yay promotion!) or are completely undesirable (yay injury!) we have attracted them into our lives and they have found us. (Yes, I absolutely believe in the laws of attraction and the power they hold within this beautiful and crazy universe).

However difficult it may be when something unfortunate comes up to bat, we navigate it with infinitely more grace if we swing some gratitude on it first and foremost. And why not? There is always something to learn. Adversity has its way of blessing us with lessons a hell of a lot more bluntly than Success.

This past week I had a “comeback” performance with Parsons Dance at the Brown Theatre in the Wortham Center in Houston, Texas. The company was double booked (a beautiful gift for a dance company – too many shows!).  There was an afternoon performance for autistic children that the current company couldn’t be present for – in came the retired Parsons-back-up-crew to the rescue! Those autistic children and their families have been dealt a different hand – one that will provide them unique, beautiful gifts and advancements all the same. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel immense gratitude for the state of my body and mind and how it has supported me through my life and career.

How quickly those of us who are in “good” health forget how lucky we are. How quickly we forget how amazing our bodies are – how resilient, how capable. I haven’t always treated my body with love and respect, yet it has never failed me.

Heck, I’ve starved it at times; I’ve hated on parts of it that didn’t meet the ridiculously perfect and unobtainable bar I’ve set for it; I’ve danced the hell out with it and didn’t stretch it; I’ve neglected it of the TLC of massages and baths when it was screaming at me; I’ve trash-talked to it.

Amazingly enough, it has always healed itself miraculously. It continues to stick with me after all the abuse I’ve given it.

If your body is so capable despite neglect and abuse, what is it (and are you) capable of when you are grateful for it?

Don’t let yourself suffer through poor health before you appreciate the glory of your body right now. Hardship and physical set-backs aren’t needed to be grateful for what you have right now (However sometimes they sure can speed up the process for some who can spin the positive despite them).

The more you are grateful for what you have – body and life – the more beauty, prosperity, and abundance flow right back to you.

So, before you dance, be grateful. Before you workout, be grateful. Before you create, be grateful. Before you eat, be grateful. Before you pay for something, be grateful. Before you move from your bed, be grateful. Before you rest your eyes at night, be grateful. Say it aloud to yourself. Dance your entire next class or performance with gratitude.

Share with me. What are you grateful for? How has throwing gratitude on your body and life helped you?

Multitasking: is it taking over your dancing and life?!

Multitasking is our modern-day nature and pride.  Technology is continuously coming up with ways to make it easier to do anything and everything with such ease, and subsequently at the same time.  We can finally conquer all we desire each waking day because we have immediate access to the world at our fingertips (and now even our eyeballs:  google glass hitting Diane Von Furstenberg’s runway)!  False!  The readiness to multitask is a curse.  To multitask by definition reads, “Often used of humans in the same meaning it has for computers, to describe a person doing several things at once.”  Is this really something we want to do?  Do we want to operate the way a computer does?  Those machines burn out for crying out loud, and now, operating like them, so do we!  When we divide our attention we are not doing one thing well.  I find my ability to finish a blog post, get to class early to go over those moves I’ve been dying to perfect, choreograph that piece I’ve dreamt about starting, and pick up choreography swiftly all gets sucked away, minute by minute, to my quietly nagging iPhone that never lurks too far from my side.  And worse yet if it isn’t the technology itself, it’s my brain that now almost seems hard-wired to operate on over-drive mode, my mind constantly bobbing from thought to thought comparable to the Internet I have grown to adopt so openly.  My attention span and patience to sit with one idea sucks.  And why is “turning off” so damn hard?  When we dance, we strive for efficiency of movement – the only way we developpé our leg to our ear is if we only use the muscles we need and let the ones that prohibit our wishful concussion a back seat.  What is our potential for efficiency if we can streamline our thoughts, and release our “mental” hip flexors? …in the studio and in our lives?

Let’s start in the studio before we take on our lives, shall we?

How many times are we at barré and doing the combination with the teacher, except we don’t know what they are going to do?   We move our body and play mind-reader with someone we don’t know.  How effective is that?  Or worse yet, we move our hands when the exercise is ultimately done with our feet, while we also predict what this stranger will do.  Or my personal favorite – how often do we stretch our hamstrings, think about the rotation of our inner thighs from the exercise prior, concern ourselves about our weak something-or-other, our PT appointment that we have to run to directly after class, and contemplate our life’s purpose, all while our favorite teacher just gave a tendue combination?  Then we arrive in first position with our left hand on the barré and we think, “How the hell does this start?”  Maybe if we do one thing, say, listen and absorb the combination only, we will actually get the combo.  Then when we have a second later we can devote all our attention to stretching our hamstrings, rather than just hanging over a dead-leg thrown on a barré.  It is impossible to stretch effectively while  simultaneously learning movement.  It is impossible to get to PT while we do tendues.  It is stupid to concern ourselves with our next career move while we attempt mastery of our degaggé.  Our productiveness in all of these areas significantly improves if we absorb one piece of information at a time.

We  are looking at teacher without seeing teacher.  

Looking is not enough.  Seeing, focusing our undivided attention, brings our level of productivity up another notch.  We are capable of digesting a combination after seeing it demonstrated the first time.  Why not?  It’s just a series of tendues and pliés in a more or less predictable pattern that we’ve practiced for the majority of our lives.  The more we see, the quicker we absorb the combination.  Then when the teacher does it the second time (for those poor souls who were doing their to-do lists in their head the first time), we add a layer of artistry that takes our dancing to the next level.

Now when I play teacher, I do a similar version of this mental multitasking.  I can be teaching and simultaneously distracted with multiple thoughts.  “Is that how that next combination starts?  Is this musical selection working? Are people comprehending what I intended?”  This all takes me away from seeing each one of my dancers more clearly;  understanding how they work, what motivates them, what challenges them and why, what their tendencies are, and where their bodies hold tension.  Seeing my students allows me to help more on an individualized level.  One thought at a time brings forth a more articulate, perceptive, and productive teaching methodology.

And going a step further, when we learn choreography, how much do we see?   How much can we focus our attention on what is solely important at that moment to the person leading the room?  I can distract myself with thoughts of sequencing when I should take a step back and see that the choreographer isn’t stressing the exactness of steps at all.  Their vagueness shouldn’t be a source of frustration but something I can see, and then adopt in my learning style and subsequently my execution, to better suit the purpose before they give that correction.  And vice versa, as a choreographer, can we see how dancers learn the movement and guide them to see the integral essence being created?  If we distract our mind, there is no way we can possibly juggle this level of thought.  If we can’t get to this level of thought, we are missing out on a beautiful layer of depth and therefore, productivity and creativity.

Now if we aren’t already dying to get to this level of efficiency and attention in the studio, we should at least crave it to streamline our lives. Just think about how much time we can earn when we fully devote ourselves to work effectively on one thing at a time.   Limit distractions, delineate time to focus solely on one idea to see if it works before bouncing to the next one and not getting one solid thing accomplished.  We don’t need our iPhones, Gmail, or Facebook to write that term paper.   We can’t research new dance companies holding auditions and talk to our loved ones on the phone.  Odds are we yes them absent-mindedly or end up buying shoes off of Gilt instead.  It is virtually impossible to walk and text successfully.  I typically look like a drunkard.  It is more time efficient to stop, send a text, and then continue on walking.  Instead I insist on spilling my tea on myself, take about 5 blocks to text 3 words, and nearly break a toe while navigating uneven New York pavement.  (Hell, we need those toes!)  I can sit in front of the T.V. and eat dinner and then finish everything on my plate, and feel completely unsatisfied;  I didn’t taste my meal.  How many times do I have to re-read the same paragraph over and over again because I didn’t digest a lick of it?  I am too busy jumping thoughts, or paying attention to the cutie who just got on the bus.  How many times do I attempt to go to bed, but then keep checking my iPhone when the light goes off just to wake in the morning craving an extra half hour of sleep?  And for crying out loud, I don’t need my brain when I do the dishes.  Let’s turn off when we can so we can be refreshed when we do need our minds to work for us.

Let’s use technology when we need it and designate time for it, rather than have it cloud our lives at large.  We don’t need to respond to that text immediately.  Set new standards.  Spend time well, doing one thing at a time.  If we do one thing only, we feel more satisfaction from completing it whole-heartedly.  In turn, we gain some precious time to conquer those dreams that lie in our journals untouched.  We gain a deeper level of artistry.  We gain beautiful, unadulterated moments with our friends and lovers, granting them the full attention we all deserve.  Check out less and stay tuned-in more.   Look less and see more.   Kill mental and physical multitasking once and for all!!!

I attempted to check my iPhone 18 times while I wrote this.

I have 33 pending drafts of articles saved to my computer that I started to write but never finished.

The Weight of 20 Pounds: A Battle Worth Fighting

I wish I could say I wasn’t plagued by the upsetting dancer-with-eating-disorder cliché, but unfortunately life decided to teach me a lesson instead.  (Don’t you just love that?)  My struggle reared its ugly head while in the middle of my college career, but its origins started way before then when I would nitpick more than just my technique in the mirror as a dance-crazed teenager.  Perfection was what I was after, and I thought I found the surest path to get an extra inch closer.  In reality, those shedded inches were traded for self-deprivation, not only of my physical being, but of my inner pride.  Quite the shame.  Here’s my story, to help abate yours or nip it in your perfect size tush before the seed is even planted.

As a type-A girl who strives for perfection I took control over one more element in my life to achieve a skewed version of greater success.  In entire honesty, I never felt I was restraining myself from food.  I never felt I was even trying “that” hard to lose weight.  My goal was to get into good shape before my next semester at college, and to me, good shape didn’t exactly refer to stamina or strength as much as it did to appearing more “dancerly.”  In the summer months prior to my junior year at Marymount Manhattan College, I was enrolled in a summer course in nutrition.  The class opened up my mind to a better, healthier diet, but, go figure, I took those lessons to the extreme.  I started actively reading labels for more wholesome ingredients and became tediously aware of serving sizes.   All positive health improvements, but only when followed with an air of casual knowledge rather than intense absolutes.

Upon my return to Marymount, teachers took note of my more slender figure.  “Christina you look so thin, don’t lose any more weight please.”  Being told I was thin was a compliment to me.  It brought a devilish smile to my face when someone acknowledged my deteriorating figure.  While I didn’t actively change my newfound eating habits, I continued to slowly lose more weight.  In my head I just thought I was maintaining the slender figure I had proudly achieved.  However, instead I was wasting away and achieving the not-so-sexy skin and bones look.  Let’s set the record straight – I was extremely thin, too thin, by anyone’s standards.  Probably around 100 pound on my medium-build, 5’5 frame.  Yet it remained easy for me to see someone with a more severe case of anorexia as sickly; where their bones were all you saw protruding harshly at rigid angles to form a horrid semblance of a natural figure.  Can you cry, “Denial?”  I was convinced there was nothing wrong with my body, that I didn’t have any disorder, and my pitifully constrained dinners were what someone who performed with their body should have been eating.  I wonder, scared to think how far away I was from this extremeness.  Probably not as far off as I thought; my mental delusion was on par for diving into the deep end.

I stopped listening to my body’s gauge of hunger and analyzed my meals as if it was possible for them to be graded.  It was the realization I really ate at least 4 servings of hummus and crackers in a sitting without hesitation, eagerly going back for seconds, that spawned the desire to shift some habits.  Additionally, I would try not to eat too close to bed time;  possibly allowing myself to indulge in some carrots or some other veggie if I was ravenous and felt like I couldn’t make it through the night.  (Couldn’t make it?! All I was doing was sleeping, but I obviously put myself on such an impossible regimen.)  It was valid to strive for diversity and nutrients in my diet, but it was critical to ingest the calories I as a dancer burned during the day to be prepared for the physical work required.  Any time I absent-mindedly stuffed my face with trail mix or some other pathetic “bird-like” semblance of a meal, guilt ensued.   Then I would try to compensate at the next meal, to ease the guilt away.  How sad to be so pre-occupied with the cyclical thoughts of food, eating, and guilt when there were so many other more productive, positive, care-free thoughts to be had.  I was taking my own life away from myself when I thought I was taking control of it.

The most tragic part?  I felt great.  What more do you need to continue with a downward spiral?  I felt on top of my dance game, when I was truly at the bottom.  I no longer had to hop, wiggle, and squat my way into my skinny jeans fresh out of the wash, and the thought of “Do I look fat in this?” was relieved from my concerns because I was aware I was thin, just not aware I was too thin.  This was the kicker; the fact that I knew I was skinny allowed me to take class in a freer state of mind and ride the wave of my deformed, yet positive view of my body.  I would be in my pink tights and proud to stand in an arabesque facing entirely profile to the mirror.  I didn’t have one thought of, “Ugh, that low belly and thigh are a bit unfortunate.”  Perfect!  I was free to think about sailing around effortlessly in a promenade, luxuriating in my épaulement, and smoothly accentuating whatever turnout I could muster with a sense of hard-earned contentment.  To top it off, I didn’t get my period for 9 months.  While I knew in the back of my mind this was bad, I would be lying if I didn’t say it was glorious to be cramp and bloat free. (To be bloated at 100 pounds seems like an impossible feat.)  I wish I could have added crabby to the list, but while I don’t particularly recall feeling temperamental while in this fragile state, I cannot imagine a body without enough fuel fostering a peaceful mind.

This entire time, I thought I was doing good for myself – caring for my instrument and being performance ready.  What made me come to the realization I was off my rocker?  My parents were scared for me and were near tears when they came to see me perform.  They told me they were going to get me help and that I needed to put on weight.  Seeing their urgency about an issue I thought didn’t exist, especially to warrant their extreme reaction, made me reconsider.  I also honestly knew in my gut not getting my period was my body’s way of shutting down and not functioning as a woman’s should.  Gratefully, the intervention was something I was willing to accept.  I did have concern for my optimal health and the repercussions of losing bone density and being at risk of injury, potentially greatly halting my dancing career all together, horribly frightened me.  Almost as much as (heaven forbid!) putting on some weight.

Gradually seeing the poundage creep on to my scrawny frame and maintaining a sense of self-pride was the most challenging aspect of the struggle.  Losing the weight and controlling my appetite was easy.  Five extra pounds, on the other hand, felt like I was wearing a balloon suit while doing pliés at the barré.  One of the hardest things for me was to get accustomed to having boobs again.  And by boobs, I am referring to my lovely A-cup chest.  Having these mounds of excess flesh with a mind of their own attached smack in the front of my body was hard to grapple with while I stuffed them into the same leotard that once housed essentially just my nipples.  A woman with a chest didn’t exactly measure up to this fantastical, adolescent dancer image I conjured and idolized, making my breasts a source of agony and symbolized me being out of shape rather than simply a beautiful woman.

Along my road to recovery, I became heavier than I was before I was sick.  I intuitively felt I would need to go further in the opposite direction, before I could balance myself and feel at my healthiest.  I let this new heavier body, limit my dancing.  It disabled me because I didn’t feel prideful.  It was a distraction that took me out of the work and into the mirror, concerned with the appearance of movement rather than the movement itself.  The honest truth was my mind hadn’t made as much of a shift as I had believed and hoped; I still critically judged my body.

It is this mindset, so prevalent in dancers, that serves as the initiation to take drastic measures to senselessly curb food intake.  So you need to cut the cycle in your thought process.  

While muddling through this mental shift, I had a nauseating number of helpful conversations with my loving and patient mother, but I will never forget her once uttered words I vehemently disagreed with, “This might always be something you struggle with.”  Excuse me? Always?  Absolutely not.  In a beautifully unpredictable world filled with ever evolving minds, nothing remains constant and people never cease to amaze with their capacity to change, adapt, and shift through the obstacles of life.  If my mind has done a 180 degree turn around when it comes to everything from boyfriends, education, Freudian philosophies, tofu, and the Muppets, then there is absolutely no reason why a mental shift around proper eating habits isn’t possible.  So the words “you might never like the way you look,” and “this will always be an issue” is the biggest pile of crap I’ve ever heard.

Now how do you start this shift?

I did see a therapist to help sort through the emotional turmoil and wrap my mind around the seriousness of the issue.  It was helpful to acknowledge all the thoughts and relationships I had growing up that nurtured this twisted mentality.  Honestly however, I didn’t feel our sessions were extremely insightful, and ultimately she encouraged me to fulfill the work I needed to do on myself.  After a few weekly sessions, I let our time together go and kept an introspective gaze on my reoccurring thoughts.

I repeatedly recited to myself, “I have to fuel my body and this is me and it’s beautiful.”   Various self-loving mantras under a protective veil of inner patience would immediately follow any critical and harshly guilty digs to myself.   I reminded myself of the stunning power in a womanly figure and began to believe the asexual, prepubescent look was not all that and a bag of chips (let’s be real, it was no chips!).  The clothes that once sagged on my wilted tushie had a field day with the comeback of my bubble butt.  Me, on the other hand, initially gawked in the mirror, not so proudly and with a tinge of disgust, before my womanly sass and ass eventually became too much fun to not saunter and flaunt in the heyday of my early twenties.

Nevertheless, in the guts of this mental battle, life threw me tests.  A phone call from a director, chatting about an upcoming season asked me if I planned on getting in shape for it.  “You know. Slim down.”  In complete defense mode, I claimed I didn’t need to and wasn’t willing to drop pounds and sacrifice my health.  A proud moment for myself.  The harsh reality – I wasn’t in my best shape.  However, negotiating the thin line between healthy eating habits and obsessive, pre-occupied ones was too sensitive a debate for me to embark upon at the time.

Ahh! The challenge of being a performing artist.

While performing a visual art form, there is a need to be physically fit.  Some companies (not all, and this should play a part when deciding where you work) are known for maintaining a physical aesthetic, and to ignore this fact would be unrealistic.  The physical work done on a daily basis in the studio prepares our bodies for the strength, stamina, and flexibility necessary.  Sometimes the work is enough to maintain a lean and strong physique, and other times as a performer you have to step up your game when an important show is coming up to make sure you feel your best.

Yes, you take class in front of a mirror all day long.  Yes, you are there captiously sharpening your technique to extreme levels of excellence, and those critiques can sneakily enter your perception of your body.  When are you done striving for the perfect figure and instead enjoy the one you’ve been blessed with?   When the meticulous training and body affliction is all you focus on, you are not dancing.  You are merely moving and fretting.  You won’t get in better shape from worrying tediously at every moment.  There has to come a point when the look of the body is disassociated from the movement, and the beauty of the dance take over.

Let go of compulsive premeditation about meals and issue yourself freedom and an open mind to thoughts of significance.  Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.  Eat what makes your body feel good and function at its optimum.  Or don’t, and then fully indulge and enjoy!  Tacking on any guilt with eating something less than nutritious or eating too much of something is absurd.  Food is pleasure and is to be savored.  Being mad at oneself only perpetuates the ugly cycle of emotional eating.  Don’t get upset at yourself.  Laugh at its ridiculous reoccurrence, grant yourself patience without judgement, and let it go – no matter how long this lesson takes. To unleash your fullest capacity as an artist and simply as a happy person, navigating a health relationship with food and your body is a battle worth fighting.

Can you train your body’s cells for more awareness of your performance space?

While in between reads, I often pick up Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee’s The Body has a Mind of its Own.   I was initially turned on to this book thanks to fellow dancer, Helen Hansen, and gratefully so because it’s entirely fascinating and relevant for professional movers.  Throughout this detailed account of the interwoven mind-body relationship, it sheds light on how our body maps operate and how understanding our body in space extends beyond our physical selves.  Body maps are what they sound like: your brain contains a map of your body’s surface with specific parts of your map synchronized with specific parts of your body. (7)

I just got off the 6 train and nearly missed my stop thanks to the chapter devoted to “place cells” and “grid cells.”  Yes, I was for a moment that obnoxious girl walking on the platform distracted with nose in book.  I like to believe because I’m a dancer with hopefully slightly more body awareness than the average being, I can handle this multi-tasking conundrum with relative ease.  Not always the case, but this time I made it home unscathed.  So what are place cells and grid cells?  “Place cells map the space around your body in terms of whatever environment you happen to be in” (130).   These allow you to situate yourself within a space relative to the objects around you.   Grid cells on the other hand “map space independently from your environment” (130).  This accounts for you knowing where your body is in space based on your own movements.  Superb athletes, Sandra and Matthew explained, have highly developed place and grid cells which allow them to have extremely detailed awareness of themselves versus other players in the game and open court/field opportunities.  Through familiarizing yourself with your performance space, can you enhance your performance experience?  I do often like to meander about the stage, run around, become accustom to the wing space, distance from the audience, feel of the floor in different places, the height of the ceilings, etc.  Prior to a performance I like to make myself as familiar as possible with the space to feel a sense of ownership and comfort while dancing movements under the unpredictable wrath of live performance.  Apparently, this urge holds actual purpose – acclimating and activating your place cells – rather than just a psychological one.  With this in mind now, I will actively introduce this into my future performance routine, perhaps taking more tedious care to acknowledge my surroundings.  Let’s see if it has any beneficial effects! In addition, being comfortable with the movements of the dance and the other performers with you on stage, educates your place cells and heightens your awareness further allowing for appropriate handle of the curve balls of live performance.  Note the ease and effectiveness of a tight-knit dance company performing familiar repertoire while on tour.  Definitely looking forward to this unity for in the upcoming season!

However, how can we better prepare ourselves for performances that are not as familiar in our body? Dancing professionally often means being on tour and performing on stages you are experiencing just hours before curtain as well as jumping into new roles and pieces on a whim.  This is where grid cells and having superb comprehension of your body in space comes in handy.  As dancers we have been training to move our limbs through space for a sufficient part of our lives.  I would imagine that by now, our grid cells are well adept.  Edvard Moser, a scientist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, believes we are born with our place and grid cells or they develop very early in our growth (132).

Can we strengthen our cells through constant rehearsal?   I like to believe so despite Edvard, because something tells me my place and grid cells could use some additional work.  I can’t help but recall a time when my grid cells were clearly out of whack.  It was my second Parsons performance of Remember Me when my first few 8 counts required me to chaine on stage from stage left to just beyond center mark and then stop on a dime to walk confidently downstage arms slapping the space in front of me directly towards the audience.  Well, the newness of the material, stage, and lights got the best of me, because as soon as I reached stage right of center and avoided hitting my partner Eric, who is spiraling directly at me mind you, I paraded my sorry butt upstage towards the scrim with complete conviction and gusto.  It only took about one or two steps before I recognized the black scrim was not quite the black haze of the audience and turned myself around like nothing ever happened besides my mental bewilderment of “did I really just do that?!”  What a way to kick off the piece, particularly when it’s David Parsons’ first time seeing you perform his work.  Priceless!  This seems like a prime example of my place and grid cells unable to adequately identify my body in space.  For the record, I am awful at recognizing my north-south-east-west unless I can identify at least one direction from an outside source.  Apparently there are people who innately know what direction they are facing.  Slightly jealous.  Sandra and Matthew claim once confused by cardinal directions, always confused since the cells themselves are confused (132).  Not looking too good for me.  I have slightly confused cells for sure!  This brings the golden rule of changing your position at the ballet barre to a whole new level.  I often change my spot at barre, but generally pick standing with my torso north and south (in the cardinal directions of the room) rather than east and west.  Think its time to start retraining my place cells!

I highly recommend The Body has a Mind of its Own for so much more than just this chapter.  If you are at all curious about how we make sense of our bodies in space from a scientific vantage point written in not-so scientific lingo, pick it up!

About to perform In the End on Friday in Maryland.  The Rouse theatre – a new theatre.  In the End – a new dance.  Come on cells, don’t fail me now!